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Kenfig - The Complete History
A Welsh Documentary Heritage Website
Identified by The National Library of Wales Kenfig - The Complete History
A Welsh Documentary Heritage Website
Identified by The National Library of Wales

The Maids of Sker
Documenting the entire history of the old kenfig borough / old bro cynffig
An important part of Wales documentary Heritage
Identified by The National Library of Wales

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Sker House || The Maids of Sker - Elizabeth Williams (d.1776)

Elizabeth Williams (d.1776)

The Maids of Sker
Her story was popularised by Thomas Morgan, better known by his bardic name of Llyfnwy, in his book 'The Cupid' first published in 1869.
Elizabeth, so the story runs, was an attractive young lady who was very fond of dancing and never missed the opportunity offered by the local mabsant revels - these were held at the old town hall above The Prince of Wales Inn at Kenfig.
These revels were an annual event with origins in the medieval period and were held to celebrate the 'day' of the local saint to whom the local church was dedicated.
An account of a later celebration describes how music was provided by a harpist sitting on the large table at one end of the hall whilst the dancers occupied the floor, and the older folk sat about the walls enjoying the music and reflecting on the days when they too had been young enough to participate.
At one of these revels attended by young Elizabeth Willaims the harpist was Thomas Evans of Newton Nottage. Sometime during the evening their eyes met and both were smitten.
For a time he courted her, but his suite was frowned upon by her friends and particulary her father. She was the daughter of a well-to-do farmer whilst he, for all the musical prowess he may have possessed, was but a poor carpenter.
Out of his attempts to woo Elizabeth came the folk song "Y Ferch o'r Sker". Thomas was no composer, far less a poet, so he pevailed upon a local bard, David Llewellyn of Nottage, to write the words, which were set to the hymn tune called 'Diniweidrwydd'. The song actually makes little reference to Sker other than one verse (given here its translation) what appears to be an insertion:


"Would surrounding swains discover
Who thus tells his tender tale
'Tis a faithful plaintive lover,
Who strings his harp in yonder vale;
Others wooing,
Seek my undoing,
Where Sker's sea-girt cliffs arise;
Smiles consenting,
Scores preventing,
Maid of Sker shall be my prize".
Alas, their affair was not to be. Isaac imprisioned his daughter in the house until she at last consented to marry the man of his choice - Thomas Kirkhouse of Neath.
The couple were duly married at Llangyfelach church, Morriston on 9th September 1766, only a few months before Isaac's death. After the marriage they settled in the Briton Ferry area and the parish registers indicate that they had at least four children of whom one died in infancy.
According to the ledgend the marriage was never a happy one. Whenever Thomas Evans happened to be playing in the district Elizabeth would slip away to hear him, and beg him to play "her song". The marriage was in fact of short duration, for the registers of the church at Llansamlet indicate that she was buried there on 6th January, 1776.

The Folk Song - Y Ferch o'r Sker

Elizabeth Williams (d.1776)

Out of his attempts to woo Elizabeth Williams came the folk song "Y Ferch o'r Sker".
The harpist, Thomas Evans of Newton Nottage was no composer, far less a poet, so he pevailed upon a local bard, David Llewellyn of Nottage, to write the words, which were set to the hymn tune called 'Diniweidrwydd'.

Translation (Welsh to English)|| Diniweidrwydd

Music - Listen to folk song

Location Map || Sker House, South Wales

View Larger Map

Maid of Sker || Elizabeth Williams (d.1776)

Further Reading - Is the story true?

We will probably never know, but the fact is that all the participants were historical people.
In a letter written by a gentleman by the name of William Davies in 1806, the tale was already current some thirty years after Elizabeth's death. William Davies also knew Thomas Evans who was still alive at that time, adding that...
"... the old man never plays the air to which the song ('Y Ferch o'r Sker') is adapted without visible emotion ".
Some versions of the story have it that Elizabeth abandoned Thomas because he went blind, but through enquiries with the harpist's descendants Llyfnwy was able to show that this was incorrect. The same writer is probably correct when he says that the error arose through confusion between Thomas and William Matthew, one of his pupils, who had indeed lost his sight.
In fact Thomas seems to have generally enjoyed quite robust health. When he did eventully marry at the age of fifty, it was to a nineteen year old girl named Catherine Thomas and the couple had eleven children in all...
In October 1819, he was engaged to play at a ball to be held at the home of his friend and patron Richard Burnell of Nottage. When he arrived it was to learn that Burnell had died suddenly and the shock so affected him that he died on 30th of that month and lies buried at Newton church, Porthcawl.

Related Website Links ||

Acknowledgements ||


(1) Bridgend County Borough Council
(2) Wendy Lawday, Via emial (Old Photograph of Sker House)
(3) Kenfig History Society
(4) Rob Bowen - Local Community Group

Webpage Author

(1) Mr Rob Bowen - Local Community Group, 2009.
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